Jewish Jesus

Filmed in part on location at New York’s 92nd Street Y.

PROFESSOR AMY-JILL LEVINE (Co-Editor The Jewish Annotated New Testament): Jesus argues with fellow Jews. You can’t be more Jewish than to argue with fellow Jews. It’s not a problem.

KIM LAWTON, correspondent: At the 92nd Street Y in New York, Vanderbilt Divinity School professor Amy-Jill Levine is making the case that Jews and Christians alike need to pay more attention to the Jewishness of Jesus, and the best way to do that, she believes, is by reading the New Testament from a Jewish perspective.

PROFESSOR LEVINE: If I want to understand Jewish history, the New Testament is one of the best sources that I’ve got.

LAWTON: Levine, who is an observant Jew, is co-editor of The Jewish Annotated New Testament, a version of the Christian scripture with footnotes and commentaries written entirely by Jewish scholars.

Prof. Amy-Jill Levine, co-editor of The Jewish Annotated New TestamentPROFESSOR LEVINE: The New Testament does have extraordinarily beautiful and profound material in it. Paul’s hymn to love in First Corinthians or the parables of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son, or comments such as “God is love,” which is First John. This is magnificent material, and everybody ought to appreciate it. I find for myself the more I read the New Testament, in fact the better Jew I become.

LAWTON: The Jewish Annotated New Testament is one of several new projects urging Jews especially to take a new look at Jesus. Bestselling author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s latest book is called Kosher Jesus. That notion, he says, is a radical departure from what he learned as a child.

RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH (Author, Kosher Jesus): When I grew up Jesus’ name, his very name, was off limits. Jesus was seen as the arch-enemy of the Jewish people. He was really seen as an apostate and traitor to his people.

LAWTON: Boteach believes the time is ripe for a new paradigm.

Rabbi Shmuley BoteachRABBI BOTEACH: We can’t ignore the 600-pound gorilla in the room, which is Jesus. Christians and Jews come together, and they can never mention Jesus. Christians are afraid of offending the Jews, the Jews are uncomfortable with the mention of Jesus.

LAWTON: Growing up in a predominantly Roman Catholic neighborhood in Massachusetts, Levine had the impression that the Christianity of her friends was just a different form of her family’s Judaism, and then she heard otherwise.

PROFESSOR LEVINE: When I was in second grade, a little girl accused me of having killed her Lord, because she had been taught that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. And I couldn’t fathom how this religion that had such beautiful attributes, and a Jewish man named Jesus, and the same Bible, was saying horrible things about Jews. So I started asking questions.

LAWTON: She says her lifelong study has shown her how embedded Jesus was in the Jewish tradition.

PROFESSOR LEVINE: He teaches like a Jew. He talks in parables, and Jews then knew that parables were not simple banal little stories. They were designed to shake us up, to get us to see the world in a new way, to challenge us. And Jesus is just a fabulous Jewish storyteller.

LAWTON: She says his teachings, such as in the famous Sermon on the Mount, are expansions of teachings in the Torah.

PROFESSOR LEVINE: He’s going to the law and bringing out the heart of it, which is also what Jewish teaching does. So he says not only don’t murder; he actually says you have to love your enemy, and he’s the only person in antiquity I’ve found who says that. But I think that gets to the heart of scripture.

LAWTON: Levine doesn’t shy away from what she calls the “problematic” passages in the New Testament, passages that have been used by Christians over the centuries to persecute Jews.

PROFESSOR LEVINE: We need to know what the New Testament says about the Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus; how the New Testament characterizes Jewish groups, particularly the Pharisees; and we need to know that within historical context. That doesn’t mean we erase them. It doesn’t mean we fudge the translation. It means we deal with them just as Jews have dealt with those problematic passages in the shared scriptures.

LAWTON: Levine believes Christians too can benefit from studying the Judaism of Jesus.

PROFESSOR LEVINE: Jews have been arguing about the law since Moses came down the mountain.

(to audience):Thank you for that “Amen.” That’s lovely. I wish that happened in my synagogue more often.

Audience listening to a lecture by Prof. Amy-Jill LevineLAWTON: On this day, she was a guest lecturer at the evangelical Oral Roberts University.

PROFESSOR LEVINE: Unless Christian preachers, teachers, Bible study leaders know about first-century Judaism, often what happens is Jesus gets yanked out of his Jewish context, and he becomes the only Jew who’s compassionate toward women, interested in adapting Torah, interested in adapting the law to the needs of the contemporary community, the only Jew interested in peace among a group of very bellicose, warlike Jews.

LAWTON: She says when Christians don’t understand Jesus’ Jewish context it can lead to misunderstandings about his message, which in turn can lead to harmful stereotypes.

PROFESSOR LEVINE: What I hear in a number of sermons and read in a number of sermons is that Torah is difficult to follow, it’s an impossible burden that weighs people down, and then Jesus comes along and says basically “Don’t worry, be happy.” In actuality, Jews in the first century and Jews who practice Torah today did not find Torah a burden. They found it to be a delight.

LAWTON: Or, she says, many Christians will talk about the angry, vengeful God of the Old Testament in contrast to a New Testament God of love.

PROFESSOR LEVINE: It’s the same God: merciful, compassionate, generous, loving, but not inclined to take sin lightly either.

Prof. Brad Young speaking at Oral Roberts UniversityPROFESSOR BRAD YOUNG (Oral Roberts University): It’s crazy that for 2,000 years Christians have followed a faith in Jesus while rejecting the faith of Jesus.

LAWTON: Oral Roberts professor of Judaic-Christian studies Brad Young agrees that Christians must understand the Jewish roots of their faith. He admits many Christians have been too busy trying to convert Jews to try and learn from them.

PROFESSOR YOUNG: Be honest about your beliefs, share them, but be willing to listen to the other side, and maybe that will change some of your beliefs. Maybe our beliefs will change. We need to share it with one another to go to the next step.

LAWTON: And, he acknowledges, the question of whether or not Jesus was the messiah can’t be glossed over.

PROFESSOR YOUNG: We should recognize when we talk about two great traditions of faith, Christianity and Judaism, that there are very sharp differences, and sometimes understanding the differences are even more important than understanding the similarities.

LAWTON: Rabbi Boteach’s new book does not accept that Jesus was the messiah. Nonetheless, Kosher Jesus has been denounced as heresy by some of Boteach’s fellow Orthodox Jews who worry that the ideas in it could make Jews vulnerable to missionary efforts. Boteach argues that Jews need to reclaim Jesus.

RABBI BOTEACH: Why are we allowing the Christian community to teach us about the Christian Christ in order to convert when Jesus was a Jew and we should be teaching them about the Jewish Jesus in order to enrich their Christian experience?

PROFESSOR LEVINE: For people who are afraid that if Jews were to read the New Testament and find some of this truly magnificent material the next thing we know they’re going to line up at the baptismal font and say, “Please convert me”: I don’t think the way we prevent Jews from wanting to convert is to keep them ignorant of the New Testament.

LAWTON: Looking at Jesus through Jewish eyes, she believes, not only strengthens the individual faiths but can also bring them together.

PROFESSOR LEVINE (lecturing to audience): In learning more about each others’ traditions, we come better to respect our neighbors, and if we are really lucky, for Jews reading the New Testament would give us deeper insight into our own Judaism, and for Christians reading the New Testament with Jewish annotations will give Christians deeper insight into the Lord and Savior they worship. Thank you very much.

LAWTON: I’m Kim Lawton in New York.


    Why don’t jews believe in jesus? you would think they would be very proud if Jesus was jewish. I don’t get it !

  • leonard mandel LTC USA(RET)


    I thought this article was fascinating..I am Jewish and went to Hebrew School as a young man prior to being
    Bar Mitzvahed at age 13..I had an Orthodox Rabbi and a Jewish woman who taught me Hebrew and about the Jewish religion..My family kept kosher and we celebrated the Jewish holidays..My rabbi believed the Messiah was yet to come.

    I am certainly not a scholar but I recall the reason Jews do not accept Jesus as the Messiah was that certain things would happen upon the coming of the Messiah.One was that all the righteous dead would be resurrected.
    There would we world peace.The Jewish law consisting of 613 commandments delineated in the Torah-the 5 books of Moses would remain intact…
    There may be other requirements..A rabbi would certainly be able to be more complete and descriptive.
    Having said the aforementioned,I believe this is the reason most Jews have not accepted Jesus as the
    I wish there would be more dialogue between Christian ministers and Rabbis on this point and that most Christians would understand the Jewish position…
    I hope this answers your question.
    Very Truly
    Leonard H Mandel, Goodyear Az

  • Barbara McWms

    Grateful to Ms Lawton, Prof Levine and Religion & Ethics, for confronting this ‘elephant in the room’ head-on.

    During the 1950’s, I was raised Catholic in the Midwest, my parents 3rd & 4th generation Irish-Americans sent us to a Catholic elementary school, our father a WWII veteran. While a Catholic education achieved questionable results, due to one minimally trained young Nun in charge of 50 to 60 students, teaching all subjects without outside assistance, Priest were the enforcers of good behavior. (no one I know was molested)

    However, their Religious training was much more inclusive. Both the young Priests and Nuns taught us that we were citizens of the world and Catholics (I didn’t know I was a Christian until adulthood and many still don’t); it was our responsiblity to carry Jesus’ message to ‘love our enemy’. They encouraged discussion starting at the age of 11 years old, if they heard any disparing remarks about the Jewish people, the Priest and Nuns were quick to remind us ‘that Jesus was Jewish’ or about Germans, we were reminded that if we wanted ‘God to forgive us our trespasses we had to forgive those who had trespassed against us’. Michael Moore was the typical Catholic boy.

    I live and work in an intellectual community where I hear adults openly state that Christians dislike Jews because they believe Christians hold Jews responsible for Jesus crucifixion and that Christians supported murderous crusades and the Holocaust. Although, I am no longer a practicing Catholic I do consider myself a Christian, having difficulties finding an apoloticial Church. While raising my daughter, we looked for a place to share our faith, and visited a variety of demoninational and non demoninational churchs all over the midwest and west and I/we never ever heard any discussion of Jewish blame. At this time, I am working with a group that want to start a dialogue that will engage those who are open to discuss our differences and similarities.
    Again thank you,
    Barbara McWilliams
    Piedmont/Berkeley/Oakland CA

  • Jan Vallone

    I am a practicing Roman Catholic who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in New York and taught for six years in a yeshiva (an Orthodox Jewish high school). Because I have always been surrounded by both Jews and Christians, I have always been aware of the Jewishness of Jesus and have come to understand that the beauty and wisdom of Christianity derives from the beauty and wisdom of Judaism. Several months ago, I purchased the Jewish Annotated New Testament on the recommendation of a former yeshiva student who now studies under Marc Zvi Brettler, one of the editors. It is an excellent book; both the annotations of the New Testament and the essays that the volume includes have enhanced my understanding of both Judaism and Christianity and have caused me to love our common heritage all the more.

    Jan Vallone

  • Yaffah daCosta

    The bottom line for Jews is that we cannot worship a man as a god. It is prohibited to Jews in the Torah (ver specifically at Deuteronomy 17:2-5). To think of him as a teacher with disciples is (and would not be) a problem. But to worship him or pray to him (when he specially taught his disciples to pray to the Father) is not Judaism of today, nor was it the practice in the 1st century to worship a man as a god (except for the pagans with their concept of an Avatar- half god and half man).

  • sister maureen conway, fmm


  • David Mollen

    The comment from Doris Carr demonstrates my difficulty with the way the subject was presented. The divide between Judaism and Christianity is not primarily about the divinity of Jesus. It is about the nature and role of the Messiah. That is, before we can tackle whether Jesus was the Messiah, we need to agree on what the Messiah’s role is and we have very different ideas about that.

    In Judaism, the Messiah’s role is to usher in universal peace and justice in this world. It is not about heaven, which is a subject that Judaism rarely discusses. Most important, the role of the Messiah is emphatically not to save souls.

    There is no need in Jewish belief to save souls because Judaism, alone of theAbrahamic faiths, does not teach Original Sin. That is the real key to the differences between the religions; we haev a vastly different view of the nature of mankind. Judiasm teaqches that man is born morally neutral, that is with a tendency to do good and a tendency to do evil, not that man is born with a stain of evil upon him.

    To a great extent, Judiasm is about encuoraging the tendency to do good to win as ofen as posible. It does not focus on developing a relationship with God or earning a way into heaven.

    I agree that we need to learn from each other, but we can’t do that effectively if we don’t first acknowledge this wide and I think unbridgeable gulf.

  • Pamela Bradley

    For most of my life I have not understood why Jews feel the way they do about Christians, and why Christians feel the way they do about Jews. As a Christian, at a very early age I understood that Jesus was jewish. That we WERE connected, and that connection was through Christ. I don’t know how I came to that personal knowledge as it was not stressed in my Southern Baptist upbringing. However, I WAS taught God’s love. I do believe that on some level, through that understanding of how much God loves, my child’s heart “got it”. It is so wonderful to see and hear that the fact that we are truly “one” is being brought to the forefront in religious teaching. Why did it take so long!

  • Humanist

    Christianity minus all the superstitions attached to it is a good philosophy. The fact is that Jesus was a good man, who was brutally tortured and executed, he has been dead for more than 2000 years and he is not coming back.

  • Channah

    One thing that leonard mandel LTC USA(RET) did not mention that I think most important–The Jewish Messiah is not to be holy. He is to be a man-like you and me. But, he will have great strength to bring the people of the world together. Jews o by the standard of ”There is no G-d but G-d” and Jesus cannot therefore be of G-d.

  • Mark Reed, Ph.D.

    As an evangelical/born-again Christian since I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior at age 20 (I was born and raised Roman Catholic but only learned rituals, not the Bible), I was extremely interested in this program on the Jewishness of Jesus. It was not news to me as I have long supported the Jews for Jesus ministry. What excited me was learning that there are other Jewish voices who are encouraging Jewish people to read the New Testament, and to learn about Jesus, who was not a Pharisee or Sadducee but more in line with the Essene sect, if anything. Because so much evil and hatred was directed at Jews by “Christians” over the centuries who, if true, were so in name only, I understood why most (?) Rabbis may have taught their people to have nothing to do with Jesus. (I have never understood why the Jewish people were so often hated and persecuted. The religious reasons were not based in Truth but only awful justifications for what to me seems an irrational hatred.) I think it is an amazing moment to see Jewish people in America being encouraged to reclaim Jesus as their own. Perhaps this moment has come, in part, as a result of true, heart believing Christians showing their strong support and love for Israel as a nation and Jews as a people, the people of the Messiah. Finally, to Yaffah da Costa, who commented earlier, I would say there are many passages in the Old Testament that are Messianic (like Isaiah 53, Psalm 22: 1-21, Zechariah 12: 9-10 for example that show that the Messiah will also suffer greatly for the salvation of the people; the True Passover Lamb). As another previous commenter, David M., pointed out, coming to a complete understanding of all the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament is important. I will be looking in to getting the books mentioned in the report. Thank you Religion and Ethics for this report!


    Jesus is the glory of Israel.When i say he is the glory of Israel i mean it was through him that the world came to know the one God.If the God of Israel is the God of all he would want all of his children to benefit from his laws And it was through Jesus that the old world died.Jesus conquered Rome and yes many christians misused the name of JESUS CHRIST to hurt and even kill but the Jewish people can be proud that one of there own,not the Roman caesars is called the SON OF GOD and the saviour of the world.

  • Justin Turner

    The New Testament is a somewhat nice (and somewhat not so nice) set of stories, and we can perhaps learn from (some of) the messages given there, but the fact is that Christ, as he is portrayed in the Gospels, never actually existed. Virtually all the miracles of the gospels, from the virgin birth all the way to the resurrection and ascension, are easily attributable to the much earlier gods of the pagans. These miracle stories were likely added by early missionaries to oral stories, not recorded in the form of our written gospels until the 2nd century. Rest assured, your admission into “Heaven” (whatever that might be) is not dependent on your faith in a man who never walked the Earth.

  • Paula

    I am a gentile believer in Yeshua. I am thankful to the Lord Yeshua, for his beautiful Jewish people, because they were chosen to teach me who He is n my life. Regardless of different//various ideologies, theologies or scientific research. He was, He is real. Yes, He is not American / European or any other culture / nationality. he is Jewish born in Israel and His true name is, Yeshua. Therefore, for me to come to realization that to honor /obey and love Him, I needed to accept/follow/ love and respect dearly HIs chosen people and the true Jewish Customs, because, that is how YHVH meant it to happen, for a reason. YHVH purposes are never wrong. This certainly means there is huge and beautiful responsibility we must be willing to take on in our lives and never forget that by God’s Grace is that we the gentile people are drafted in into the olive tree.
    We should always be thankful for the Jewish people. Blessed are they!

    p.s. Thank you for your boldness and the beautiful prophetic message you have sent out to the world for such a time as this! Shalom!


    Unless a man (any person ) is born again, s\he CANNOT enter the Kingdom of God. Political/religious correctness and platitudes may be acceptable now, leading to polite debates and views that make people comfortable. This is the Great Illusion from satan- the father of lies. And it will surely fail on the day Jesus returns to take vengeance on ALL who do not obey the Gospel of God’s grace through salvation in Jesus alone.
    Was Paul not a Jew who inveighed against fellow Jews for rejecting Christ? sadly the blindness he spoke of remains to this day- accentuated by so-called ‘Christian’ leaders, eager not to offend. Listen to an ‘uneducate’ Jew: we will rather obey God than man. Acts 5:29. You have been warned!
    Shalom uvracha.

  • Shelley

    Anietie is the walking illustration of of intolerance manifest in fundamental Christianity that has resulted in the deaths and persecutions of millions of people, mostly Jews and Muslims, throughout the ages. The intolerance for those who do not believe what she believes is mind- boggling – there is no place for reason .

  • Cyndee Amick

    I am usually attending worship service at my local congregation, but this morning (due to over-exertion on a day-trip yesterday) my body said that I needed to stay home and rest. I am so glad i “listened” to my body because staying home and resting enabled me to tune into your Religion/Ethics broadcast.
    I am writing this to comment on the Jewishness of JesI should not portion of your program.
    I was born into and raised in a devout “Christian” family. I learned early on all about Jesus from the “Christian perspective”. This did not however include and teachings about his “Jewishness”. I basically believed that He was sent by God to introduce a “new” faith — Christianity. In my adult years I became disillusioned with the teachings of the various churches which I attended and felt that there was a huge void that they were not filling as far as the full identity of this man — Jesus. About 18 years ago I was channel surfing one night and came across a very unusual program. There was a man and woman sitting in their living room talking about someone named “Yeshua”. Their words intrigued me and I listened intently as they spoke about the teachings of this man long ago in Israel. I truly “sat up and took notice as I realized that their “Yeshua” was in fact my Jesus. That one program led me on a search that is ongoing. My search has led me to other programs and other teachings and a library of books and articles that now occupies my “study” room. I pray that all who listened to this portion of your program today will also “feel the hunger” and begin a search to find out all they can about the Jewishness of the man called Jesus so that He truly becomes real to them and their faith experience can be expanded and enriched as mine has been.

  • Channah

    I have read all of the comments above. I was born into a Christian family, and once I was grown I became a Jew by Choice. I cannot believe how so many people accept Christianity——-when it is a religion that has taught hate, bigotry, and their way is the ONLY way. Kahlil Girbran taught ”there are many doors to G-d”. He was a Christian, and yet he believed that all faiths can lead to G-d and a rightous life.

    Jesus was a man who was a teacher——–who taught Judaism to the people, to remind them how a Jew was to live. He never was to found a new religion. Paul, and others who were great speakers and enjoyed the attention they got, made up the religion. Jesus were never considered holy (the Trinity) till the Council of Nicen over 300 years after his death. This was all made up at this time. The Roman church made it all up as they went along——finding ways to control the people. I cannot understand how people can believe this wholely made up religion.

  • Steven ben-DeNoon

    I enjoyed reading this article and to see my Jewish brothers and sisters take an objectional view for the Christian Bible was of great interest to me. I debate the facts of Jesus with orthodox rabbis looking into the writings and how they are not contradictory to the Torah if examined objectionally. My new book coming out in Otober ad being consider by the History Channel for a documentary will be an extreme eye opener for both Jews and even christians.

  • Karen Pidcock

    It’s occurred to me, as a life-long Christian, that the only Scriptures that informed Jesus are the Hebrew Scriptures, therefore the roots & source of his convictions re the Holy One must be found therein, & need to be studied carefully by Christians. Thus, The Jewish Annotated New Testament surely should help us!

  • Michael Ridgeway

    Shalom as I cry and rejoice in Spirit and in Truth Hallelu-Yah the most wonderful love story of life in all that is created is THE TORAH SCROLL and also when you study the Y’Shua words in the hebrew translation placing the hebrew Y’Shua words into the word search study of the Tanakh you will weep more and more of the most wonderful love story ever told as you pick up his HEART and follow HIM this world will change into light as we become one!!! your friend Michael —P.S. Y’Shua is my messiah shalom shalom

  • Robert Pentangelo

    I hope and pray that you will one day return to the Catholic Church, whether in a Western or Eastern liturgical tradition-Catholicism is the most biblically based version of Christianity.

  • Robert Pentangelo

    ok, no one asked for a specific answer to the major question: are the passages in the NT concerning the responsibility of the Jewish leaders in Palestine in the death of Jesus Christ true or not? You will NEVER get a Jewish theologian or historian to concede ANY liability on their part. So what are we dialoging about?



  • Joseph Muldoon

    Thomas Jefferson (yes, THAT Thomas Jefferson, third US president) did just that when he compiled “The Jefferson Bible”; he edited out all the miracles and supernatural silliness leaving only what he regarded as sound moral instruction.

  • Judy Gale

    Professor Levine and Rabbi Boteach, thank you both for your great work that enhances constructive interfaith dialogue and (hopefully) greater understanding and hospitality towards one another.